August 2006

Portland’s South Park Blocks, a strip of green through the center of the city, links downtown to Portland State University.

Along the way is the Arlington Club, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – named after Portland’s fine arts matron and former Fountain Gallery owner, the Portland Performing Arts Center, the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, St. James Church, the First Congregational Church, beautiful trees and artwork, including George Fite Waters’ Lincoln, Phimister Proctor’s Roosevelt, and the currently missing Rebecca At The Well by Carl Linde.

In the middle, surrounded by tall beautiful green elms is the Peace Plaza.

What! Never heard of it? You’ve definitely seen the biggest part of it – if you’ve walked the blocks.

According to the hard-to-find plaque (pinned the a church day care center across the street) “Peace Plaza includes ‘Peace Chant’ out in the Park Block (sic) and this piece, “From Within, Shalom” which belongs to St. James Lutheran Church. It was dedicated by Rabbi Joshua Stampher of Congregation Neveh Shalom. In memory of Cora Lee Beard Whiteneck, it calls all generations to the pursuit of peace.”

Cora Lee died in Oklahoma back in 1922. Her son, the Reverend Doctor John Whiteneck, a Congregationalist and political optimist, died in 1995.

The pinned plaque includes a poem by Whiteneck, titled Harmony and Peace, which I won’t transcribe. A retired fundraiser, he launched Generations for Peace, which turned out to be a small scholarship program managed by St. James Lutheran.

From Within, Shalom is a companion piece to Peace Chant. Both are granite pomo obelisks, cracked and scarred, very Artforum hip, circa 1980. The artist is Steve Gilman, who made a few more sculptures like this and then found more useful work to pursue.

The larger section of sculpture, Peace Chant, lying akimbo to walking traffic in the midst of the Park Block, is another excellent reason for revisioning public art placements. What can you say about it? Like Shelley Duvall in her heartbreaking performance as Olive Oyl, “He’s Large!”

It’s large, and kids from the daycare like to jump off it. That’s about all one needs say about it.

A large bronze plaque for Peace Plaza is easy to overlook, but hold some clues.

There’s another important addition to Peace Park. It’s the gravestone for Terence O’Donnell, author of the definitive readable history of this state That Balance So Rare; The Story of Oregon, An Arrow In The Earth, and many other books, essays and letters to the Oregonian. He died in 2001. The marker reads, “In honor of historian Terence O’Donnell, consummate storyteller and friend of Persians.”

Friend of Persians? Gravestone in the Park Blocks? Is he underneath? No – his ashes are in a church in Isfahan, Iran.

If you’re a friend of peace – and peace right now – go find and read O’Donnell’s Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran, a gem of travel writing from one of the very few Americans who has taken the time to understand Iran, return and report.

Just sidling by on Hawthorne Bridge, screening traffic swishing, to peer over the edge at the black swirling waters.

It’s a yogurt lid, which someone has carefully detailed with a black marker a declarant message to the world in general and tied up with a bit of telephone wire.

Is it art? Of course it is. Don’t be sanctimonious. Is it potent? No. Is it valuable? No. Pithy? No. Provincial? Well, gee. Almost everything is these days, the whole pdx pop cult is bursting with unwarranted pride and purpose. Chomping at the bit and laughable.

The second piece in this small public show is, again black marker on yogurt lid with telephone wire attaché’, of a crude drawing of a calm beaver minding his own business. But look closely the hatch marks and find a tiny crazy indecipherable poem.

Man this art crit doesn’t make sense at such a small scale. This piece of Portland public artwork might be beautiful, if you wanted it hard enough. the quality is a magical contract you can make just by wishing. Contextual? Just your mind and inherent curiosity, mixed with the pace of your feet, the wind, the light, the moment. Hard tho. Gotta wish hard. Be a good wisher. Maybe a liberal arts education helps. Hard to measure the net effect, the return on investment. Like measuring the transfiguring of clouds; outguessing the gods.

Try wishing. Go ahead. Try now. What do they say? Go with your heart.

Does it work?

Does it work now?

Does it work for you?

Will it work for someone else? The next pedestrian? The one following me?

Well, I didn’t jump which always makes a quicker crossing.

Buried under fruity Himlayan blackberry vines

Rusted busted junk – refounded as inspired décollage

Decontruction of the deconstruction, no signature, no whois

Ten years abandoned – then this week a clean up crew

Arrives to chop back vines and haul everything to the landfill: reclared rubbish. Now only snaps left. Whew.

Reverbing, rewiring, rewinding? Visit METRO for hints where to chuck it.

Great book on the longtrail of trash – the Fast Food Nation of the “other end” is Garbage Land, by Elizabth Royte. Good read and scary!

What happened? We all heard about Charles Lewis buying the old Masonic Hall on N. Commercial in 2003 to expand his super-successful Ethos Music Center and provide a springboard into youth music.

Budget-watchers at the PTA must have cackled. 1. Shuttered for 20+ years, that building is a disaster – getting it off the PPS books for $320,000 seemed a windfall; 2. Ironic a youth-performing arts NPO should settle across the street from Jefferson High School, the former performing arts magnet school which booted Mary Folberg and many other great arts teachers (Folberg went on to found Northwest Academy, another NPO suited up to serve those kids who gotta to dance).

But with finished renovation of the North Portland Library (a busy + nestled Carnegie with a very nice auditorium upstairs which comfortably seats 100), PCC Sylvania construction settling down, and now McMenamin’s rehabbing the funeral home next door – Charles Lewis looks like an urban pioneer. (There is a secret celebrity living just a block away too – the Doyen of dirt herself!

According to last week’s Oregonian, Doug Stamm of Meyer Memorial Trust has loaned Lewis a million dollars to get started on construction. Stand up guy, Doug.

Meyer Memorial Trust – over half a billion dollars sitting in the bank (now I understand the purpose of tax dodges, but MMT is supposed to be a public benefit; prove it by spending some cash above the 4% IRS minimum.)

So those kids who’s faces have hung outside the building might get to take a class in the new 18,000+ square foot operation before they’re no longer kids.

With a twenty-year plan and MMT’s bankroll, Lewis could reach across the street and take on Jefferson – which as a facility is NOT a white elephant.

Just get Tony Hopson and Pastor Hardy onboard and keep Marshall Haskins as the Varsity coach – go Demos! We’ll all be singing Remember My Name…

On the desk of Richard Meeker used to be (may yet be) a paperweight with A J Liebling’s ultimate bourgeois quote, “The freedom of the press is for those who have one.”

Be comforted by Kris Krisofferson’s equally rancid take, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

So what are those scrapbook nuns at the Portland Zine Symposium expect? A parade of flowers? A tour of DARPA?

I loved Factsheet Five, Ben is Dead and OP (where is Mike Gunderloy? Where is Darby? Where is John Foster?) Remember Snipehunt or Mississippi Mud or for gosh sake the Portland Scribe? Of course you don’t. You were in Pampers. That’s right, I was a punk before you were a punk (and no, I didn’t go see Fee Waybill.)

But times have changed. Samizdat is TOR. Blogspot & Google dominate. Kinko’s figured out prepay. R. Crumb is a grandfather. Paul Krassner works for Ariana Huffington.

Puff puff! Times have changed! Dammint. The zines are even institutionalized! (But Laurel Winter you are still way cool.)

Okay okay – it’s at Smith Ballroom, third floor of Smith Center at PSU, continuing Saturday and Sunday August 12 & 13. And it’s free.

Books to Prisoners
Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective
Reading Frenzy
Independent Publishing Resource Center

UPDATE – Inspired by Mike’s comment below, I went Sunday afternoon. The ballroom was packed, a complete nest of entrepenuer geeks with complimentiary ego stroke chapbooks. The most pathetic were the wannabee anarchists – those boys were cute and their girls were scary. Smash the state! Tea party politics! Okay, okay I’ll find a hammer and a fistful of boiling water.

Ursula LeGuin is probably Oregon’s foremost literary export, rivaled closely by Jean Auel, Beverly Cleary and Ken Kesey (quite an eclectic reading list – try getting those on one bookshelf.)

A film of her Earthsea series – Gedo Senki or Tales of Ged has just been released by Studio Ghibli – the most fantastic animation studio in the world – and seems it will only be seen in Japan.

Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the great master and Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki, creator of Totoro (possibly the best film for small children every made) and Spirited Away.

Here is a synopsis of the film – Thanks Ms. LeGuin! See you on Thurman Street!

Want to see this film in Portland soon? Two chances – Tom Ranieri at Cinema 21 or DC++. Oh, you want it in English? Fuggettaboutit until it’s DVD release, probably next year. From fan comments, critics and small children don’t like it but because of the connection to Studio Ghibli it’s getting good box office.

Readers of this blog know it has a penchant for memorials for the dead and the near forgotten. Visits to the Oregon State Hospital, Oregon’s forgotten WW II memorial, and the Lone Fir Cemetery (which really aren’t comparable, you’d be so lucky to have the Friends of Lone Fir sweeping your gravestone someday) have been blogged here.

Ronald and Donald, died March 17, 1952.

Another forlorn spot is the Columbian Cemetery off Columbia Boulevard in North Portland.

See a web site created by the nice people trying to keep up with the brambles – the Families of Historic Columbian Cemetery. Looks like the local Boy scout troupe did a big clear out in March. Yikes! Check out their CafePress stuff.

They’ve got a sexton list, gravestone photos, and some biographical info. In the lexicon of sadness, we need a new word for gallant but hopeless historical preservation efforts.

On a July visit the dandelions were knee high, and local vandals had kicked in the door of the toolshed and knocked over a dozen headstones. The I-5 highway thundered overhead. But in the stillness of the cemetery nothing but honeybees moved.

Secluded at the rear of the garden is the baby graveyard.

From visiting dozens of similar pioneer cemeteries, I estimate there are several hundred children buried here – with about thirty remaining headstones and four or five remaining wood markers.

Stone is used for headstones due to fires, but dozens of shingle markers remain, washed clean by decades of rain. The rows of hedge cover most of the area. Markers surround the roots.

Baby Schaffer – died 1852.

The purpose of art is to evoke a strong, meaningful feeling; to articulate the impossible, to touch the void. Reverse this formula and things which evoke strong meaningful feelings, etc. are art. A place, a pill, a 10,000 foot plunge.

Baby Beaver, died October 1, 1952.

The strong meaningful feeling of this place is pain and suffering, incalculable loneliness, loss and emptiness. These feelings are the tendrils of ghosts, soaked into the soil. Powerful magic swarms around this place, hot, still and humming with bees.

Baby Chambers, died June 1949.

This tiny ceremony has been lost for two reasons I think – 1. birth control and abortion are legal, 2. the angels at Emanuel Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can keep almost anything alive. They are amazing grace.

Baby Melby, died January 1958

When you’re worn down by your bleak existence, when you’re against the wall, pressured, slightly stunned or sick, the tonic is to step off the ledge.

Go alone. Ghosts are shy. These ones are shy, small and weak. But go sit in the grass and wait. These aren’t the ghosts of stories or Hollywood, no – more seductative and instructive. They slip in your ear and wrap themselves into your memories.

See all the Portland Public Art photos of the Columbian Cemetery in the super PHOTO ARCHIVE.

Oregon Cemetery Info + Death Index

Oregon Historic Cemeteries Association

Multnomah County Tombstone Transcription Project

Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries

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